Without its starting point guard for the entire game, and best inside scorer for most of three quarters, it was all hands on deck for Minnesota’s women’s basketball team.
The result was maybe the Gophers’ best game of the season, a 73-63 victory over Nebraska Wednesday at Williams Arena.
Gadiva Hubbard scored 14 points, and Sara Scalia added 11 points, but all nine Gophers who played finished with points and at least one rebound.
“We stayed poised,” coach Lindsay Whalen said.
The Gophers (8-11 overall, 7-10 Big Ten) played without starting point guard Jasmine Powell, sidelined by a sprained left ankle, yet finished with just seven turnovers against 18 assists.
Forward Kadi Sissoko spent most of the first three quarters on the bench with foul trouble, yet the Gophers outrebounded Nebraska, 39-30, and doubled the Cornhuskers’ scoring in the paint, 32-18.
Still, it was the defense that sealed the win. Minnesota held the Cornhuskers (11-10, 9-9) without a field goal for the last 3 minutes, 43 seconds and finished on an 11-1 run.
That’s no mean feat with Sam Haiby on the floor. The Nebraska junior scored a game-high 22 points but managed only one free throw after she tied the game, 62-62, with a three-point play with 3:34 left.
The Gophers used Scalia, Hubbard and Alexia Smith to contain Haiby.
“I thought we were aggressive, we were locked in at the end there, especially on Haiby,” Whalen said. “At the end of the game, we made her take some tough shots and it helped us win.”
In losses last week at Rutgers and Maryland, the Gophers surrendered 83 and 94 points, respectively, and Whalen used the previous two days of practice to work on defense.
“I honestly don’t think we worked on offense at all,” Hubbard said.
It worked. The Cornhuskers shot 39 percent from the field and had only six offensive rebounds. Forward Isabelle Bourne, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week after scoring a combined 43 points in two Nebraska victories, finished with seven points on 3-of-11 shooting from the floor.
Nebraska came up empty on its last five trips downcourt.
“Once we got stops, we knew we could win and it was our game,” Scalia said.
Scalia, the team’s leading scorer with a 14.9-point average entering the game, made only 2 of 11 shots from the floor — 1 of 5 from 3-point range — but finished with seven rebounds, eight assists, three steals and no turnovers. With Powell out, the two guard often took the ball upcourt, sharing that duty with freshman Alexia Smith.
“Sara played a really good game,” Whalen said. “You think of her as a scorer and a shooter, but her line was really good. She played a great floor game.”
Offensively, Sissoko started the fourth quarter on the floor and took over inside. Her layup with 1:08 left was the game’s last field goal and put Minnesota up 68-63.
From there Hubbard, Scalia and Alexia Smith made 5 of 6 free throw attempts to seal the game and a season sweep of the Cornhuskers.
“(Nebraska) is a really good team. Coming they had nine conference wins, they’re a team on the (NCAA) bubble, they’re very well coached,” Whalen said. “There’s no question this is probably our home signature win, the way we bounced back from the East Coast games, and the way we played in the fourth was tremendous. I’m really proud of this team.”
The Gophers are scheduled to play host to Michigan Sunday at 1:30 p.m.